. federal law signed into law by president clinton in 1996. it says if a person is legally married in a state, the federal government can't recognize those marriages. that's where you talked about federal benefits heterosexual couples get and same sex couples do not. the prop 8 thing is bigger. while potentially it's confined to the state of california only, the question it out there having given the right to gay marriage could the state then take it away through proposition 8 passed by a majority of the vote nurse 2008. having taken that case, the court could get to the bedrock issue. can any state refuse to let same sex couples get married under the federal constitution. it could potentially be narrow or very far. >> pete, as i understand it, let me ask you. this one of these things, maybe the driving one, is defense of marriage act was about paying the estate act. where one of the two people said she didn't have to pay the estate tax because a married couple wouldn't have to. >> reporter: this is a case from new york. a woman named edie windsor who married her partner in canada.